Opinion: Nevada Sen. Harry Reid was impressed by ‘light-skinned’ Obama’s lack of ‘Negro dialect’


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Oh, Harry, Harry. Have you lost another submarine?

Harry Reid, the Democrat Senate Majority Leader and the national government’s highest-ranking Mormon, has admitted now remarking apparently with some amazement on the nation’s highest-ranking black Democrat as being notably ‘light-skinned’ and having ‘no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.’

The stunning quotation, which occurred during the 2008 presidential campaign, was noted/acquired by Mark Halperin of Time and John Heilemann of New York magazine. But for some reason not reported at the time or subsequently. Instead, it was saved for their upcoming book, ‘Game Change.’ Let’s see how their news magazine bosses are with that decision in coming days.


Although the radioactive quotation was apparently not included in the book’s promotional materials, it appeared on the Atlantic online on an obscure winter Saturday and was picked up in a Washington Post story. That item lead, somewhat surprisingly, not with the racially insensitive quote by one of the nation’s most powerful Democrats about an allegedly close fellow Democrat who has raised a couple million dollars for him.

It lead instead with Reid’s abject apology, first reported by Nevada’s ubiquitous Jon Ralston:

I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.

‘Improper comments’?

This afternoon the White House, where the aforementioned ‘light-skinned’ black now....

...resides, took the unusual step of issuing a public statement from President Obama, attempting to close the matter asap:

Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harry’s apology without question because I’ve known him for years, I’ve seen the passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.

During the often-bitter struggle for the Democratic nomination, Reid was officially neutral. However, his son Rory, worked for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Last year Obama flew to Las Vegas, where he famously said he didn’t want bonused bankers going to party, as the star of a multi-million-dollar Reid Strip fundraising party.


Ralston, btw, also reports that the same book quotes Reid as telling then-rookie Sen. Obama in 2006 that he was going nowhere in that body.

Politically, of course, both men need each other desperately today. Obama needs Reid to honcho the closed-door revamping of his treasured healthcare legislation so that enough Democrats in the party’s overwhelming congressional majorities will obediently go for the final version, perhaps even before Obama’s scheduled State of the Union address Feb. 2.

Reid, whose less than cuddly manner has endeared him to fewer folks over the many years of his tenures in or on the Navada Gaming Commission, the Nevada Assembly, lieutenant governor’s office, House of Representatives and four Senate terms, is already in profound political trouble back home.

There his approval poll numbers are approaching Dick Cheney levels in the year when he must run for re-election. A new Las Vegas Review-Journal poll today shows 52% disapproving of HR, up 3 points since December.

Despite his vast fundraising lead, Republicans have highlighted Reid off as one of the country’s most vulnerable Democrats and hope to pull a Daschle on him.

Just six years ago Sen. Tom Daschle was rewarded for his aggressively partisan public leadership of the Democratic Senate minority by being dumped from office by South Dakotans in favor of Republican Jon Thune. Daschle went on to a lucrative career advising lobbyists but neglected to pay some taxes, which derailed his nomination by Obama as secretary of Health and Human Services.


Reid’s big hope is that the GOP’s national disarray will permeate the party’s bid to do the same to him in Nevada.

In political damage control, the first rule is to get all the bad stuff out right away hopefully on, say, a slow wintry Saturday, abjectly apologize for it, get the offended party to accept the regrets, maybe ask some others, preferably blacks, to issue urgent statements of support, something about knowing Reid’s true heart and attempt a political pivot to ask why bother with minor side issues when so many Americans remain unemployed?

Reid will try to appear to move on so that any sympathetic Sunday talk show talkers can skate by the story without much rhetorical discomfort or condemnation such as ‘I’m sure he regrets it.’ Or, ‘Well, it’s not PC, but at least it’s accurate.’

Coincidentally, as The Ticket reported here earlier today, this weekend both Republican and Democratic party chairs, Michael Steele and Tim Kaine, are to appear head-to-head on two Sunday morning programs. Count on this: Steele, who is black, and aides are this afternoon plotting how to approach/attack the issue, while Kaine, who is white and his aides, are anticipating what Steele will say and planning counters.

Most of all, Reid and Obama want to get this over with by Monday, when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs will be forced to reiterate the president has said what he’s going to say and the issue is closed, he hopes.

As the astute Mike Flynn points out here on, Reid is not the first Senate leader to make racially insensitive remarks. Someone named Trent Lott, then Senate Majority Leader, said something insensitive about Strom Thurmond’s background back in 2002 that launched a firestorm of political criticism by the likes of Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Lott, of course, is a Republican. So it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, Kerry and others have to say now about the Reid racial incident. Probably something along the lines of, that was between those two men and the president says it’s over. So it’s over, they hope.


-- Andrew Malcolm

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